Intelligent Communities – An Overview

The Intelligent Communities Forum (ICF) is a think tank that focuses on how to create prosperous local communities that can compete effectively in our broadband economy, which is to say, competing on a global basis. Each year ICF chooses seven communities that, based on a multi-faceted analysis, show themselves capable of being “playas” on the world stage. These are cities to watch and emulate over the next few years.

Today, one of the seven will be chosen Intelligent Community of the Year. With this honor comes bodacious bragging rights, but also, that community will be thrust into a leadership role as other communities study them to try to gain valuable knowledge and learn best practices.

The Intelligent Communities are evaluated by dozens of judges worldwide. There are 21 communities that make a first cut, and this is reduced to the seven finalists. The leadership of ICF makes personal visits to really get to know what makes these communities special. There are five main categories in which the seven are judged and a winner is selected:

  1. The quality and creative use of their broadband infrastructures
  2. How well they develop a workforce capable of doing knowledge work
  3. As a community how much do they embrace, encourage and exude innovation
  4. How well do they advance digital inclusion
  5. How effectively do they market their community

Yesterday we observed interviews of the seven finalists and it was interesting to see the different qualities that they possess and the circumstances that led/motivated them to this level of recognition. I’ve actually covered several of these communities in various reports and columns over the past few years, and visited with two: Riverside and Chattanooga.

The following is my brief take on these seven. I will write about many of them in detail over the next couple of months.

Chattanooga TN

Since I wrote extensively about my broadband site visit to Chattanooga, I won’t say much here. But you can check out all the innovative things they’re doing here. And part 2. It’s interesting to note that their mayor, Ron Littlefield, considers his biggest marketing challenge is getting people to suspend their disbelief that so many innovative things are coming out of this “little town” in the South. Chattanooga is actually a mid-size city.

Dublin, OH

Dublin was one of 10 cities I interviewed in an early Municipal Wireless Snapshot Report. However, they had built a robust fiber network in 2001, and their wireless mesh was an expansion of their broadband efforts that used the fiber for backhaul. In a private discussion with their Deputy City Manager Dana McDaniel, he told me they generated 8,000 jobs that can be directly linked with the broadband network. I’m going to pick up that thread in a few weeks and run with it, so stay tuned.

Eindhoven Region , The Netherlands

This area south of Amsterdam has the interesting challenge of being a manufacturing center, but in an area that has high costs for many things. Their companies have to find ways to make things more efficiently and faster in order to keep up in competitive markets with companies from countries where the cost of doing business is noticeably lower.

They have responded by forming public private partnerships that are capable of pursuing a higher-than-average number of projects and partners. The collective brainpower of having so many partners leads to remarkable results, such as increasing productivity in their healthcare industry by 1% per year and potentially saving 750 million euro

Issy-les-Moulineaux (France)

This community outside of Paris turned to the Internet to help them turn their economy around, not because they were confident of achieving certain goals with broadband, but because “we had to do something or our city would die.” One of their approaches is to use French culture as a way to get citizens to adopt new technologies. For example, they’re turning museums and art galleries into places where people can use handheld devices to view artwork, access historical information and interact with other art lovers.

Communities work together on innovative tactics such as sharing tax revenue from one community’s or another’s efforts to bring a particular business to the area. This works on the principle that everything balances out in the wash plus you get the creative energy of more people and organizations working towards recruiting new businesses.

Riverside, CA

I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone and on-site with Riverside over the years. The thing that most draws me to keeping tabs on their progress is how aggressively – and creatively – the city works towards digital inclusion. It’s almost literally a cradle-to-grave approach. Young low-income kids can participate in digital literacy programs. Teens are taught digital literacy, and also how to do hardware repair and software support so they can be a tech support team as well as train senior citizens how to use key applications. Many of the city’s support services geared to low-income individuals of all ages have a broadband component. I have and will continue to encourage policymakers and lawmakers in DC to shape broadband adoption programs so they can better fund and facilitate community activities such as those in Riverside.

Stratford, Ontario Canada

Listening to Stratford’s Mayor Dan Mathieson describe in quick succession all the cool things his city is doing with broadband, and technology in general, will get your heart rate up as you work to keep up with him.  They will definitely be a model community. However, one particular broadband feat might trump everything that city does. It seems that at young kid around 13 was sitting in the city square playing his guitar in hopes of getting passersby to drop a few coins into his jar. His mom thought this was kinda cute, so she video taped him and posted some of these on YouTube via the city’s wireless network.

Someone else thought this was entertaining too and forwarded the link around until it hit the screen of some high mucky muck in the recording industry. That person got said video clips in front of Usher (you don’t know who that is, ask a teenager – then prepare to be ridiculed). Usher took this wunderkind under his wing and in the ways of musicland that leaves us forever amazed, the kid became a star and now has 10 million Twitter followers. That kid? Justin Bieber. Don’t know him either? Well, for our last intelligent community….

Windsor-Essex, Ontario

Of all the seven finalists, Windsor-Essx probably faces the greatest pressure to have digital technology fulfill its promise of improving economic development. This city is similar to Detroit in that the auto industry is pretty much the only major industry in town. But whereas Detroit’s automakers financial woes are many, in Windsor-Essex the auto industry is almost obliterated..

It’s all hands on deck in this community as they work to reinvent their entire workforce. Knowledge work is the Holy Grail as far as a reasonably attainable “new” industry, and broadband is going to be the primary horse that carries them there. Things are showing promise. For example, the area colleges have come together to create strong journalism programs that capitalize on all of the multimedia that drives this profession. As a testament to their success, while journalism is hemorrhaging people and showing signs of eventual implosion, these colleges are placing a sizable majority of their grads in journalism jobs.

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